Shor's Extraordinary Journey: From New York to Tokyo

newsonjapan.com -- Feb 17
Since his relatively late emergence onto the scene, New York-based composer Alexey Shor has rapidly built a popular and appreciative following for his style of composition that, while a product of the 21st century, closely follows in the footsteps of the great composers of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Since his entry to the concert hall, Shor has enjoyed a busy and productive schedule, his works being performed in prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall, Wiener Musikverein, Berlin Philharmonie, Kennedy Center, Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory and the Mariinsky Theatre amongst many others. Shor’s music has been performed various times in Japan since 2017, most recently including at the Japan Piano Open and the ‘Japan Grande Classico’ Music Festival in October 2019.

Shor’s works, while contemporary, are noted for their traditionally-constructed elements, including tonal harmony, established orchestration techniques and memorable melodies. Described by noted Japanese cellist Yo Kikoshi as, “...international and well-understandable classical music”, and “Millenium Romanticism” by celebrated conductor, Tomomi Nishimoto, Shor’s works — while a product of the modern age — hearken back to the late classical and romantic periods in their style and construction, a trait which has not gone unappreciated by audiences the world over. Indeed, for the premiere of Shor’s concerto-like Travel Notebook for piano and orchestra in 2017, the work received a standing ovation with the audience requesting multiple encores from twice ECHO Klassik award nominee, pianist Denis Kozhukhin.

“...my music is undeniably more tonal and more traditional than the majority of contemporary classical music, but it still is expressed through the eyes of a person living in the 21st century. So it’s an unusual mix in some ways.” — Alexey Shor

Matching the rapid transformation and building of Shor’s audiences since his debut less than ten years ago, his works have also increased in both number and scale, his earlier pieces for duos and small ensemble being overtaken by large-scale orchestral works including concertos, tone poems and even an original, full-length ballet, a project untaken in collaboration with the Bolshoi Theatre. His score for the Crystal Palace ballet has also enjoyed performances in other iterations, most notably including an adaptation for a show on ice, Jester’s Wedding, featuring Olympic and world champions together with a leading opera soloist from the Bolshoi.

When asked about the repertoire performed during the competition and noting Shor’s work, the competition’s Artistic Director and renowned Japanese pianist, Masahiro Kawakami, said: “There are of course many contemporary composers who write very different music, very atonal perhaps. For me, Alexey Shor is very conservative, but at the same time something new. His music is interesting, has a good character…”

Featured in the ‘Japan Grande Classico’ Music Festival from the 10th to 27th October 2019, an event introducing classical and contemporary mediterranean music to Japanese audiences, the composer’s works were performed in a series of concerts by famous Japanese performers, including Winner of the Queen Elisabeth International Competition and Professor at Ferris University College of Music, violinist Yayoi Toda; multiple international piano competition winner, Kyoko Tabe; Winner of the Seoul International Music Competition, Paganini International Violin Competition and Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition, Fumika Mohri and and multiple international competition winner, cellist Yo Kigoshi. The festival’s concerts took place in Tokyo, Osaka and Yamanashi. Commenting on her performance of Shor’s music and her view on the impacts of the composer’s output, Yayoi Toda said: “I feel like a new door in the music world has opened quickly...it was a wonderful experience performing Mr Shor’s composition with a strong sense of dynamism and rich colors.”

Keen to remain eclectic, Shor has also made a foray into the world of film composition, his works featuring in the upcoming Just Noise production, a movie filmed in Malta with a release date penned for early 2021.

“There is a delicate kindness at the root of his music.” — Tomomi Nishimoto,

Another important factor when considering Shor’s music is his proclivity for programme music, his works drawing inspiration from historic events, locations around the world and the composer’s own experiences. Shor’s aforementioned Travel Notebook, for example, draws inspiration from the composer's travels around the world, with movements named after locations including Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Ravenna, and Ascot.

Last year marked an important milestone in Shor’s career, his programmatic Images of the Great Siege being recorded by the world-renowned London Symphony Orchestra and released on the Naxos label. The work follows the imagined exploits of a young man present for Malta’s struggle against the Ottoman Empire in 1565, the piece’s different movements representing various scenes from the historically-based events. The CD also features a recording of Shor’s Verdiana, a work featuring arrangements of melodies by Verdi, in contrasting styles including samba, bossa nova and tango styles.

When asked for their response to Shor’s music and its continued stylistic relevance to concert-goers, Tomomi Nishimoto responds: “In modern times, there is the new technology ...but the audience and I are travelling through the scene of the heart with the music of Alexey Shor.” A recurring theme in the performances of Shor’s works is their international following and their easily translatable themes and musical language. When asked about this and how this impacts one’s performance, Yo Kikoshi postulates that, “All composers compose in a unique style, but I think that Mr. Shor's music has a melody and rhythm that Japanese people are familiar with. So, as a performer, it is the task of Japanese musicians to express the familiar melody in a form that can be used as an international approach.”

Alexey Shor’s career seems to be going from strength to strength, with the number of performances and the reach of his output increasing exponentially, with more performances of his works planned through 2021. Signalling her intention to perform Shor’s works in concerts across Japan this year, Tomomi Nishimoto said: “I am honored to be able to perform [Shor’s works] again in Japan in May this year in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.”

It may be said that Shor’s unusual, yet inherently familiar, style of composition provides audiences with an alternative to the angular, more atonal music favoured by the avant-garde, a defining factor in a career that shows no sign of slowing down.

For further details about Alexey Shor, visit his official website.